Smart cities need to collect and analyse vast amounts of data to generate actionable insights for decision making. Smart city applications are therefore only beneficial if there is continuous connectivity, allowing these devices to communicate with each other and the governments in order to analyse the mountains of data collected by them. Besides the conventional information and communication technology infrastructure, the growing proliferation of next-generation technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), big data, internet of things (IoT), cloud and blockchain allows the cities of tomorrow to further improve the delivery of citizen-centric services.
tele.net takes a look at the use cases of next-generation technologies in the smart city ecosystem…
Building a network of connected devices to collect actionable information
IoT forms the bedrock of the various initiatives envisaged in a smart city such as smart energy, intelligent transport systems, waste management and smart lighting. By installing IoT-enabled sensors on devices such as vehicles, street lights and utility meters, smart cities can achieve intelligent recognition, tracking and monitoring capabilities. Some smart cities have already started leveraging this ecosystem of connected devices to improve their service delivery mechanisms. For instance, the smart city of Lublin in Poland has installed Global System for Mobile Communications and General Packet Radio Service devices on vehicles, which transmit real-time data to a despatch centre software, which then relays that information to electronic displays at bus stops and to online portals. Besides reducing the waiting time, this has resulted in a much more reliable public transportation system. In Los Angeles, the city government has installed a vast network of pavement-integrated sensors, that transmit real-time traffic updates to a traffic management platform, which then adjusts the timing of traffic signals to optimise traffic flow. In Dublin, several smart city projects have deployed sensors that detect water levels and report flooding incidents to the city authorities. Other cities are using smart video surveillance systems to identify stolen cars, control traffic, collect tolls and deter crime in general.
Automating decision-making through AI
Using AI, smart cities can further enhance their decision-making process by enabling technological devices to learn from experience and imitate intelligent human behaviour. For instance, in the case of public transportation, AI can be used to optimise travel routes by analysing real-time information on traffic congestion and vehicle breakdowns. Further, public transit usage data can help cities make more informed decisions regarding future public transport routes and timings, and also allocate their infrastructure budgets efficiently. AI can also be leveraged to enhance passenger safety. For instance, in one of its smart city projects, Dubai monitored the condition of bus drivers through AI tools and utilised the insights to improve its public transportation system. Consequently, the smart city was able to achieve a 65 per cent reduction in accidents caused by exhaustion and fatigue. Similarly, data collected through sensors on traffic lights can be used by emergency vehicles such as ambulances and fire engines to get to their destinations quickly and more safely.
AI tools can be used in other smart city initiatives as well. For instance, in the energy sector, AI has the potential to enhance the safety and performance of power grids by helping the grids assess and predict the demand for energy during specific intervals. In the retail segment, store owners and retailers can use sensors to track the peak times of customer entry, shopping habits, places of crowding, etc., and then use AI to produce consistent predictions based on these parameters. The insights generated could then be used by store owners to improve consumer experience.
Cloud computing for efficient data storage
Smart cities generate enormous amounts of data from billions of connected devices. This requires a concomitantly large computing capacity in order to store and analyse this information. Further, the computing infrastructure should be scalable, cost-effective and agile enough to accommodate demand-side fluctuations. Cloud storage has emerged as the most viable option, meeting all of these criteria. Cloud provides a platform where data can be securely collected from various interconnected devices and sensors, and can be made readily available for use by both the government and private stakeholders.
Further, cloud computing offers the capability to assimilate huge volumes of data without adding additional hardware storage capacities, thereby bringing down the costs of data management. Storing data in the cloud also takes care of data security, privacy and reliability, while minimising the need for coding. In a smart city ecosystem, connected devices can easily interact with cloud applications, making it easy to access data on a real-time basis without a lengthy provisioning process. Further, provisioning and withdrawal of resources can be repeated indefinitely in cloud computing.
Going forward, cloud computing can also be used to create a network of smart cities. By sharing certain data and data-driven insights from a cloud with cloud providers in other cities, it might be possible to create a management system template that could transform a “normal” city into a smart city relatively quickly, and with reduced need for human involvement.
Enabling decentralised data exchange through blockchain
The huge volumes of data generated in a smart city set-up need to be shared with the multiple stakeholders involved in the decision-making process. Much of this data is collected at the user level. Hence, it is essential to ensure that the information is shared with a high degree of reliability and transparency, and that user privacy is maintained. To this end, blockchain has emerged as a promising technology for exchanging data efficiently without the involvement of a centralised administrator. Blockchain makes it possible to encrypt information totally or partially so as to share only the part that is of interest, privately, securely and without the risk of it being manipulated by a third party.
Blockchain has the potential to speed up bureaucratic procedures in smart cities by making it possible for government departments and the public to interact digitally, without the need for intermediaries. Blockchain can also make it possible for city officials to manage city services without compromising people’s privacy.
Blockchain has potentially wide-ranging applications in other domains as well. The backbone of these applications is smart contracts, which are computer-based protocols that enable credible and transparent transactions. For instance, smart blockchain-based contracts can make it easier for rooftop solar-powered households to automatically trade surplus electricity with other members of the grid. Moreover, blockchain can help power companies bring in greater transparency in the regulation of energy transformation and distribution. Blockchain can also provide a strong communication backbone for streamlining and securing peer-to-peer energy trading transactions. Similarly, in the real estate sector, smart contracts can facilitate the peer-to-peer property trading process by reducing the involvement of government agencies. In the transportation space, smart contracts can be utilised for passenger ticketing.
According to the United Nations, the world’s urban population is expected to surpass 6 billion by 2045. Thus, it is important to look at ways to provide a sustainable and efficient environment to this burgeoning urban population. Countries across the world are looking at smart cities to promote sustainable and inclusive urban development and drive economic growth.
However, the various elements of “smartness” can only be realised if there is robust network connectivity in these cities. A strong digital backbone that helps in the transmission, collection and analysis of data is therefore a prerequisite for all smart city initiatives. While a mix of communication and networking technologies, including wired networks, wireless networks, satellite networks and transmission protocols, is being used in smart cities across the world, the need, now, is to integrate multiple next-generation technologies in the smart city framework. These technologies have the potential to revolutionise service delivery mechanisms by enabling efficient and seamless collection, transmission and analysis of the huge volumes of data generated through the billions of connected devices in smart cities.